Inglewood Forest: Lowther land grab

Inglewood Forest – the area roughly between Penrith and Carlisle – lost most of its trees centuries ago. And in the 1760s, it was the scene of an unusual tussle of ownership. As a sheet of paper later used as scrap records.

Inglewood Forest notice

London 30th Jan 1768.

Whereas the Lords of the Treasury have thought proper to grant unto Sir James Lowther a lease of the Crown’s supposed interest in Inglewood Forest in the county of Cumberland and the manor of the soccage of Carlisle, with their respective appurtenances; and whereas the said Sir James Lowther has given notice and warning to all tenants…

OK, 18th century notices are not the easiest to read. They cram hundreds of words into one sentence, with (if you are lucky) just a few semi-colons and commas to break it up.

So, short version!

The notice is to tenants, residents, farmers, and anyone else living or renting land/property in the two areas described above.

It was sent by the Duke of Portland. And it related to a land grab by Sir James Lowther.

in 1694, King William III gave Penrith to William Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland – great-grandfather of the author of the notice. (For a little on the earlier history, see here).

That was William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland. He’d been Lord Chamberlain in the Whig ministry of 1765-6.

Which put him at odds politically with the Lowthers. And ‘Wicked Jimmy’ Lowther came up with a unique wheeze to get one over on his opponent. A way to secure for himself not only a lot more wealth, but also political strength. For if you had a vote in those days, it wasn’t wise to vote against your landlord.

Wicked Jimmy’s wizard wheeze

Sir James Lowther, in 1765, claimed some legal loophole, and got the Exchequer (which was under his party’s control) to rule that the land didn’t rightfully belong to the Earl of Portland. And to then give him a lease of a load of land owned by the Earl.

He got the king onside by making the king’s sons (both infants) joint nominees with him (ie Jimmy) on the Inglewood Forest lease.

A shock for the Inglewood Forest locals

Sir James promptly served 400 freeholders in Penrith and Inglewood Forest with writs of ejectment.

The freeholders, who’d never had dealings with litigation beyond rows with the parson over tithes or a neighbour over a sheep, were hit with ’15 bills of equity and 225 actions of common law’. Legal actions that would ruin them financially within a few months.

Hence the 1768 notice from the Duke of Portland to the Inglewood tenants.

Sir James Lowther had warned the tenants they have to pay their rents and fines to him (Sir James). And that if they paid them to anyone else, they did so:

‘at their own peril, and make themselves liable to pay the same over again’.

The fight-back

The Duke of Portland’s notices advises tenants he is aware of this warning – and tells them to ignore it.

Outlining his claim to Inglewood Forest and manor, the Duke speaks to the tenants ‘as their friend’. And says he will defend their rights and his own against Sir James Lowther.

The Duke of Portland and Sir James Lowther “are said to have spent £200,000 between them” in the legal battle, and trying to get Parliament to sort out the law.

 On the duke’s side, it was said it was ridiculous if land that had been in someone’s ownership for 70 years could suddenly be said to have reverted to the ownership of the Crown. From which Sir James was seeking to lease it.

The Restoration had created the Civil List. Kings didn’t need to give land away for money and the idea of one king giving someone land and the next taking it back and giving it to someone else should be consigned to history.

Sir James got his government to introduce a bill in his own interests. But it looks as though the Barons of the Exchequer, in 1771, told Sir James to get lost.

Saved as scrap paper

There is a printed copy of the notice in Carlisle Archives – used as spare paper by the Duke or his agent.

For on the back, handwritten, are lists of names under dates from a year earlier: October and November 1767.

They are hard to decipher, but I think it might be a list of canvassed voting intentions (not local) ahead of the General Election held between 16 March 1768 and 6 May 1768.